Matthew 9:19-26

the_gospel_of_matthew-title-1-Wide 16x9 copy 2

Matthew 9

18 While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. 20 And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. 23 And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. 26 And the report of this went through all that district.

In Erasmus and the Age of the Reformation, John Huizinga’s fascinating biography of the Christian humanist and public intellectual Erasmus of Rotterdam, Huizinga writes about Erasmus’ defense of and sympathy toward women, views which were all too uncommon in the 15th as 16th centuries. Huizinga writes:

The same holds good of his views about marriage and woman. In the problem of sexual relations he distinctly sides with the woman from deep conviction. There is a great deal of tenderness and delicate feeling in his conception of the position of the girl and the woman…Who stood up at that time, as he did, for the fallen girl, and for the prostitute compelled by necessity?…Erasmus does not hold with the easy social theory, still quite current in the literature of his time, which casts upon women all the blame of adultery and lewdness. With the savages who live in a state of nature, he says, the adultery of men is punished, but that of women is forgiven.[1]

This is so fascinating. Erasmus really broke with the spirit of his day in the way that he valued, defended, and treated with kindness and equity women in his society. In so doing, he really was modeling something that Jesus had demonstrated in His own ministry. We can see this at various points in Jesus’ life. Our text is one notable example. Here, Jesus sees and helps two females: one younger and one older. In so doing He demonstrated various things about who He is and about what the Kingdom of God is like.

These miracles demonstrate the breadth of Jesus’ compassion.

Matthew 9:18-26 presents us a miracle within a miracle. That is, it is a miracle account with another miracle account that interrupts it. Both, tellingly, involve women. The gospel writers present these stories together and they truly do stand together. They offer us, together, a powerful statement about the breadth of Jesus’ compassion.

18 While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.”

20 And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment

There are two references to gender in these two verses:

  • my daughter
  • a woman

The breadth of Jesus’ compassion is demonstrated in the fact that He treats both of these people with loving concern. He sees them. He does not reject or turn away from them. He treats them as people of value. To get at why this was so revolutionary we need to understand how women were viewed in this society at this time. The siddur, or Jewish prayer book, contains a prayer that was and is still said within Judaism today:

“Blessed are you O God, King of the Universe, Who has not made me…a goy[Gentile],” “a slave,” and “a woman.”[2]

While these words are nuanced and messaged today to make them more palatable, they remain an uncomfortable marker of the low view of women that was common in Jesus’ day. But Jesus’ actions contrasted with this view in marked ways. Again, this is demonstrated not only in our text but in others as well. Think, for instance, of Jesus and the woman at the well or Jesus and the woman caught in adultery or even Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman. Time and again Jesus demonstrated that all people had value to Him and that those who were written off as unimportant were indeed important to Him! Craig Keener writes:

In a world where women were nearly always second-class citizens and where male authors who cited women as examples of heroism treated them as exceptions (as in Plut. Bravery of Women), the Gospels’ greater balance is intriguing. Yet this balance fits the rest of Jesus’ ministry and teaching: it was the socially powerless who most readily embraced him.[3]

The early church understood the radical implications of Jesus’ kind treatment of those considered unimportant by society. In his astonishing book Atheist Delusions, David Bentley Hart writes about how Christianity’s treatment of women contrasted with the dominant pagan society of room. Some examples:

One of the reasons why slaves had to form their own cultic societies is that they were not allowed to join those of their masters. The Christians, by contrast, admitted men and women, free and bound, to equal membership and obliged them to worship together. This was, in many ways, the most radical novelty of their community: that it transcended and so, in an ultimate sense, annulled “natural” human divisions…

Moreover, it makes little sense to deny what even Christianity’s pagan adversaries freely acknowledged to be the case: that this new religion was uncommonly attractive to women, and that many women found in the Church’s teachings forms of solace that the old religions could not provide. Celsus, as I have noted, regarded the disproportionate number of women among the Christians as evidence of Christianity’s irrationality and vulgarity. Julian, in his Misopogon (Beard-Hater), chided the men of Antioch for allowing their wealth to be squandered by their wives in contributions tributions to the Galilaeans and to the poor, which had had the unhappy effect of inspiring a general admiration for the Christians’ “atheism.” And so on. Frankly, no survey of the documentary evidence regarding early Christianity could leave one in any doubt that this was a religion to which women were powerfully drawn, and one that would not have spread nearly so far or so swiftly but for the great number of women in its fold…

That ancient Christians were not modern persons, and so could not yet conceive of a society in which men and women occupied the same professions or positions, is both obvious and utterly undeserving of reproach. The “social technology” ogy” of perfect sexual equality-or, at any rate, equivalence-was as far beyond their resources as was the material technology of electric light. But Christians had been instructed by Paul that a man’s body belonged to his wife no less than her body belonged to him, and that in Christ a difference in dignity between male and female did not exist. And while it would be silly to imagine that the women who converted to Christianity in the early centuries had first calculated the possible social benefits of such an act, it would be just as foolish to deny that Christian beliefs had real consequences for how women fared in the Christian community, or to imagine that Christian women were entirely unconscious of the degree to which their faith affirmed their humanity…[4]

That last sentence captures the point nicely: “their faith affirmed their humanity.” This is what Jesus did: He affirmed their humanity by seeing them and showing them compassion. Jesus affirmed the imago Dei, the image of God in humanity, by caring about all those He encountered, whether society said they were worthy or not.

These miracles demonstrate the authenticity of Jesus’ impartiality.

What is more, these miracles show that Jesus treated people the same whether they were at the top of the societal ladder or the bottom. We learn interesting details about this little girl in this woman in our text.

18 While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him…

20 And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment

The little girl was the daughter of a ruler, that is, a synagogue ruler. Her father had social standing, social capital, social clout. He was a respected member of the community, both social and religious. As such, Jesus helping him would have made sense to the watching crowd. “Rulers,” by definition, are not usually lacking in assistance when they require it! I do not say this, I hasten to add, as a criticism of the man. In this instance he was simply a broken-hearted father pleading for help! But his being a ruler gave this request added force in the eyes of those watching.

Along the way, however, Jesus is confronted with another healing opportunity. This is another female, an older woman this time. However, this woman did not have an esteemed member of the religious establishment advocating for her. She had nobody in her corner. She was alone. This is because this woman “suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years.” The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary offers insight on what this means.

The term haimorroeo, “subject to bleeding,” was used in Greek medical writings and in Leviticus 15:33 (LXX) to mean “menstruous.” This most likely indicates that the woman had menorrhagia, a disease in which the menstrual flow is abnormally prolonged, usually producing anemia as well.[5]

“Like the girl who is dying,” writes Craig Blomberg, “this woman would be viewed as ritually unclean, an even greater stigma than her physical problem (cf. Lev 15:19-33 and the entire Mishnaic tractate Zabim).”[6]

What a gulf separated these two people, united by gender though they were. The reality is that had Jesus recoiled at the touch of the woman with the issue of blood, rebuked her, and quickened His pace toward Jairus’ daughter, nobody would have faulted him. No excuse or apology from Jesus would have been necessary.

What is more, it is hard to imagine what this interruption must have felt like to the father of the little girl. How on earth could this woman—broken, sick, the bearer of a most awkward and embarrassing infirmity—have a right to the attention of Jesus when his own daughter so desperately needed Him? I do not say that Jairus did think this. I simply say he might have. And I will be so bold as to say there almost certainly were some or many in the crowd who did think it.

But notice what Jesus did. He stopped his movement toward the one need to attend to the other. Jesus saw this woman with the issue of blood.

22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.

What a verse! What hope! This verse shows us the authenticity of Jesus’ impartiality. He did not favor the child of the ruler over the woman who had nobody. More than that, He powerfully calls this woman “daughter.” The word is used twice in our text: once in reference to the girl and again in reference to the woman. And why this is important? It is important because it reveals a fundamental fact of the Kingdom: in and through Jesus we are all sons and daughters of God without any reference to our social standing or our earthly connections. We are sons and daughters because of Jesus! He sees us the same and loves us equally.

Jesus was quite adept at (in the words of G.K. Chesterton) breaking the conventions but keeping the commandments. He seemed to care nothing for social status, for the societal top and bottom. Jesus treated people the same, be they the daughters of rulers or lonely women shrouded in shame.

The impartiality of the Kingdom gives us pause and then gives us joy! It shows us how very different the Kingdom of God is from the world. The world is addicted to social standing, to wealth, to power, to beauty. Not so the Kingdom. In the Kingdom the top is the bottom and the bottom is the top and the ground is level at the foot of the cross.

These miracles demonstrate the spectrum of Jesus’ healing power.

What is more, we see evidence in our text of the spectrum of Jesus’ healing power. Hear again our text.

18 While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. 20 And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. 23 And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. 26 And the report of this went through all that district.

Jesus heals:

  • a woman with a debilitating infirmity;
  • a girl who has died.

In other words, He heals the whole physical spectrum or gamut. But there is something more here. There are allusions to salvation as well. This can be seen in Jesus’ usage of the words “your faith” to the woman with the issue of blood. And it can also be seen in the holiness/uncleanness dynamics that are at play in our text.

First, let us note that Jesus tells the woman with the issue of blood, “your faith has made you well.” Jairus, the synagogue ruler, also demonstrates great faith. These many miracle stories in Matthew 8-9 provide many instances for Jesus to observe and comment on faith and oftentimes in these instances Jesus uses the faith demonstrated in the various requests for healing to comment on issues of salvation and entry into the Kingdom of God. For instance:

  • In Matthew 8, Jesus says of the centurion who asks for his servant to be healed, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith” (v.10) and then speaks of the nations entering the “kingdom of heaven” (v.11).
  • In Matthew 8:26, Jesus rebukes the disciples thus: “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”
  • Matthew 9 begins with the friends of the paralytic man bringing their friend. Jesus “saw their faith” (v.2) demonstrated in their desire for physical healing and immediately said, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”

There appears to be, then, a pattern of (1) faith demonstrated in the appeal for healing and (2) Jesus using the demonstrated faith to segue into talk about forgiveness, salvation, and the Kingdom. This dynamic should be kept in mind when we see Jesus saying to the woman with the issue of blood, “your faith has made you well.” At the least, it points us back to this pattern of connecting faith demonstrated in the plea for help and ultimate salvation. But I think we can safely conclude that when Jesus acknowledges and commends the faith of a person He is making a statement about their trust in Him and their own forgiveness and salvation. In other words, salvation, while not explicitly mentioned, is implied in these exchanges insofar as they represent the needy person putting faith in Jesus.

There are also a couple of powerful holiness/uncleanness aspects in our text. In the eyes of those watching, Jesus would have twice been rendered ritually unclean in these verses: when the woman with the issue of blood touches Him and when He touches the dead child to raise her up. In other words, seen from below—seen from the vantage point of humanity and religion—these exchanges made Jesus unclean. However, in reality, seen from above—from the vantage point of God—these exchanges rendered the needy woman and girl clean! It was not that their unholiness passed to Jesus. It is that His holiness and power passed to them.

There is a little detail in this passage that hints at this. It can be seen in verse 20 in the woman touching Jesus’ garment.

20 And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment

The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary explains why this little detail is interesting.

The expression “edge of his cloak” is kraspeda, which in some contexts can refer to the outer fringe (decorated or plain) or a garment…However, the term is rendered “tassel” in 23:5, which may be the meaning here as well. Attached to the four corners of a garment worn by men were “tassels” (Heb. sisit) that had a blue cord. The tassels reminded an individual to obey God’s commands and to be holy to God (Num. 15:40).[7]

In other words, it is likely the case that this woman touched precisely that part of the garment—the tassels—that symbolized the need to obey God and be holy! She touched, that is, the garment symbol of holiness. This is significant because it is a clue to what will become clearer as the New Testament unfolds: when we come to Jesus in faith His holiness is given to us.

This is why I say that this passage demonstrates the full spectrum of Jesus’ healing power. We see here an infirmity healed, a dead girl raised, and, as I have argued, salvation and ultimate healing strongly suggested. This is the whole spectrum of healing.

While the crowd would have been wrong to focus on the supposed ritual impurity conferred to Jesus by His being touched and His touching, there was a note of truth in it, though in a way they could not foresee. The gospel of Jesus Christ is that we are rendered healed and clean and whole by Jesus but that, yes, it is, in part, through His becoming unclean for us on the cross. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul writes:

21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

It is therefore the case that Christ is rendered unholy on the cross when He substitutes Himself for us. He is not rendered so by us but rather for us. He willingly took our sin upon Himself on the cross of Calvary. And, as Paul writes, we, in turn, are rendered holy by Him: “that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The way to salvation is therefore the same way we see demonstrated in our verses: we are touched by the Lord Jesus and we touch Him in faith. “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” (Ephesians 2:8).

The woman with the issue of blood touches Jesus in faith and is healed.

The dead little girl is touched by Jesus and lives.

So, too, with us: we are saved by the Lord Jesus Christ who has power over sin, death, and hell. We may come to Him with and in our brokenness and lostness and plead the blood. And He will say “Yes!”

He will always say “Yes!”

Such is the love of the Savior.

 

[1] Huizinga, Johan. Erasmus and the Age of Reformation (p. 69). Kindle Edition.

[2] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/three-blessings/

[3] Craig S. Keener, Matthew. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Vol.1 (Downers Grove, IL: 1997), p.192.

[4] David Bentley Hart. Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (Kindle Locations 2108-2111, 2124-2130, 2141-2146). Kindle Edition.

[5] Michael J. Wilkins, “Matthew.” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Gen. Ed., Clinton E. Arnold. Vol.1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), p.65.

[6] Blomberg, Craig L.. Matthew: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary) (p. 160). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[7] Michael J. Wilkins, p.65.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *